We are all a little guilty of judging people in the media, but when it comes to mothers are we more judgemental than normal? Many celebrity mums live their lives in the media through gossip columns or glossy magazines showing off baby bumps or their ultra slim post baby body, even being handed gongs for combining glamour and acting prowess with motherhood.
There isn’t an award for “non-celebrity mum of the year” but both celebrity and non-celebrity mums alike do have something in common: they’re the subject of constant debate and opinion. As soon as you give birth, advice is thrown at you from every angle. Everyone has suggestions on how the child should be held, fed and winded. It sometimes seems that every movement and decision is under a public microscope. And it doesn’t matter how many books you read or how many children you have, someone will always think they know better than you. Haven’t we all seen that mum in the supermarket with a screaming child and instantly thought that what she was doing was wrong – and that we would deal with the situation differently?
And what of working mothers? Mothers make up 45% of the workforce but still face bias in the workplace. If they choose to stay at home and raise children, they are labelled scroungers and “women on welfare that keep popping out children that they can’t afford”. Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt recently accused women educated to degree level of “wasting their best years to child-rearing”.
On the other hand, mothers that do return to work face headlines accusing them of “damaging their child’s prospects” or “harming their child’s development”, “failing to help with homework” and “sending sick children to school”. And, as the pressure on employees grows in the double-dip recession, old prejudices have resurfaced. Listen carefully and you may hear them whisper: “mothers have split loyalties”, “they are monopolising roles that could be occupied by someone with more commitment and with fewer responsibilities at home” and “mothers are unreliable”.
Keeping their jobs may not be mothers’ only problem. Finding a job is becoming more difficult. A survey report by Regus has found that the number of mothers being employed is declining. Last year saw only 26% of UK employers hiring mothers, compared to 38% in 2010. The survey also found that firms are reluctant to employ mothers, questioning their value and focus. Some 38% of employers still fear that working mothers may show less commitment and flexibility than other employees. And 31% of employers believe working mums will leave shortly after training to have another child. Some 17% are worried that women who return to the workplace will have out-of-date skills.
Mothers are a stoical bunch. Criticisms in the press, the sly looks from fellow workers and the ill-conceived criticisms from family members are routinely received with dignified silence, just as a mother would teach her child to turn the other cheek. But don’t let the silence be mistaken for acquiescence. Non-celebrity mothers are not likely to go on a Twitter rampage shouting down the judgements or the injustices that they have borne. Instead they work harder. And they try to instil in their offspring a better understanding of equality and fairness, on the hope that the mothers – and leaders – of the future won’t be judged quite as harshly as their forebears.